Bible Studies Index | TGF1999
Index | TGF Home Page
1999 TGF Bible Conference
Pauline Apologetics: The Defense of the One Faith
Pauline Apologetics and Atheism
Phillip W. Dennis
§0. Abstract: This session will examine the results
which ultimately follow a rejection of God's revelation and, particularly,
Paul's gospel in this age. The final stage of this rejection is atheism
- the belief in man's total autonomy and independence from God. This session
will also discuss why "classical" apologetics (evidentialism)
fails to challenge the unbeliever in his fundamental presuppositions. A
typical evidentialist approach to debating atheists will be critically
examined to expose its weaknesses. We will outline how a correct presuppositional
approach, on the other hand, reduces the "wisdom" of the unbeliever
- Review of Apologetic
- Common Ground with unbelievers
- Not a neutral epistemological ground
- Nature of the unregenerate
- There is a metaphysical common ground
- Atheist's world view
- Evidentialist method
- Presuppositional method
- Atheist attacks
- "Religion" not scientific
- "Problem" of Evil: Idea of God not compatible
with presence of "evil" in universe.
- "Order from Chaos" (Opposed to creation
II. Review. [Back
- Prov. 26:4,5 Answer
not a fool according to his folly, Lest thou also be like unto him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit.
- Myth of Neutrality.
- Neutrality is impossible. No one as a matter of fact is neutral, that
includes Biblical Christianity. It is okay to be biased. There is only
one correct bias!
- To be intellectually fair, the antitheist is bound to establish the
(possibility of) his avowed neutrality before he builds upon it.
- What counts as "reasons" for justifying truth claims are
already implicit in a person's world view. Reasons, methodology and facts
are not independent self-authenticating impersonal universal abstract principles.
- Illustration #1. "Truth Verifying Machine" To see
the interdependency of methodology consider the following. Suppose we want
to construct a machine that sorts apples and oranges. After all, no one
wants to mix apples and oranges. So we construct the machine, which takes
arbitrary apples and oranges and sorts them into two baskets. One labeled
"apples" and the other labeled "oranges." Next we test
the machine. We plunk in an apple, turn the crank, and voila, it plops
into the apple basket. So far so good, now toss in an orange, turn the
crank, and again, it falls into the orange basket. Well now we have a verified
apple-orange sorter. We just go about collecting fruit throwing it in the
sorter and life is then just a bowl of cherries (whoops, mixed metaphor
life is a heap of sorted apples and oranges). There's something wrong
here though, if you don't already see it, see if you can detect it the
Lets do the same thing with statements. We want to be able to distinguish
true and false statements. So what we want to construct is a "logic"
or truth testing machine, just like our apple-orange sorter. We put statements
into it, some true and some false, and turn the crank We want to construct
the machine so that true statements fall into the true basket and false
statements fall into the false basket. So we construct it and test it.
For example, we put the statement "1 + 1 = 2" into the machine
and it falls into the true basket. We then put in "1 + 1 = 0"
into the machine and it falls into the false basket. Great, we have tested
our machine, now we can just apply it to any statement.
Now what is wrong with this aside from the fact that we have only
given a finite test set is the more fundamental problem, that in
order to test the orange-apple sorter we need to know the difference between
an apple and an orange to begin with. You see if we didn't how did we know
that the machine worked when we tested it? The same goes for the truth
testing machine, we can't construct such a machine and test it unless we
are already in contact with the truth. This thus shows the total interdependence
of the entire world-view. Logic/reasoning (unity aspect) and individual
facts (plurality aspect) cannot be viewed as completely independent "things".
This analogy also illustrates the problems of taking deduction or induction
as prior to the other or taking deduction as exclusive (rationalism) or
induction as exclusive (empiricism).
- Illustration #2. Invitation to conduct the debate in "no
man's" land. The atheist presents himself as an innocent unbiased
truth seeker. He invites us to abandon our stronghold of theism (presuppositions)
and he too will abandon his stronghold of atheism (his presuppositions)
to join us in unbiased open minded enquiry using the laws of logic. Just
let the facts speak for themselves. What is wrong with this is that logic
is not an autonomous principle that resides in neutral ground outside the
theistic world view. The evidentialist gives in to this atheist invitation
and has lost the debate from the out set. This brings us to...
- Challenge the presuppositions of contrary positions at their "root"
- "Argumentum ad hominem" not to be confused with the
"ad hominem fallacy"
- The ad hominem fallacy is the claim that someone's position is false
based on the person himself. Example: "He can't be right because he
is a Catholic."
- The true argumentum ad hominem shows that the opponent's world-view
is incoherent. Prov. 26:5: "Answer a fool according to
his folly..." Assume the ground of the "fool" to show that
his position reduces all of reality to absurdity, that on his presuppositions
nothing is provable or true. Biblical support: James 1:8; Matt. 12:25
III. Common Ground
A. Not a neutral epistemological ground [Back to outline]
- Nature of the unregenerate
- Noetic effects of sin: 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7,8.
- This noetic effect of sin is an ethical alienation from God.
Spiritually dead does not mean mentally dead. As a result of the fall man
did not become an irrational beast. Even the unregenerate have the capacity
to understand what the Biblical text is saying, however, he does not
like what it says. He would rather remain, with every fiber of his
being, in rebellion against God. So....
[Back to outline]
- There is a metaphysical common ground. Even
the unbeliever is the imago Dei, he is not an irrational beast. Further,
Scripture tells us that all men do know that God is but that the unbeliever
holds down the truth in unrighteousness, Rom. 1:18-22.;the atheist
is a fool Psalm 53:1, yet, as long as the unbeliever accedes to rational
discourse, he is acting according to imago Dei. It is in this sense that
the unbelievers word view is "financed" on the borrowed capital
of Christianity. Nevertheless, there is the noetic effect of sin. The unbeliever
will not accept the things of God unless regenerated by the Spirit (1
Cor. 2:14). Of course, we are still responsible to present intelligible
and cogent arguments against the unbeliever's world view.
[Back to outline]
- Thus, we must show that the
position (Christian theism centered about Pauline dispensationalism) we
are presenting is intelligible, and
- Show why he should forsake
his position (it is foolish) and accept what we are presenting.
we are not defending a generic deity versus atheistic materialism. Nor are
we defending some generic Christianity, nor just a generic Christian theism
(Calvinism), but Biblical Christian theism centered on revelations of The
Mystery. Romans 1:16, Eph 3:9, Rom 16:25.
- Opportunity to bring
Pauline distinctives to debate against atheists may be limited, but should
be stated as opportunity allows.
IV. Survey of Atheist world view [Back to outline]
- Atheist metaphysics is materialism.
All that exists is matter in motion ruled over by laws and chance. Matter
+ Laws + Chance + Time gives rise to individuals. The materialist's religion
worships the gods of Chronos (time), Tyche (chance) and Anagke (necessity).
Time (Chronos) yields the plurality of the universe spawned by Chance (Tyche)
operating via necessity (Anagke). Modern phrase is "evolution."
- Extreme Reductionism:
- Everything else is derivable from laws of matter in motion (pure material
- In particular, "mind" is just a phenomenon of matter.
- As noted above, they typically embrace dualism in regard to principles
of "nature." Determinism (laws) and indeterminism (chance).
- Note the atheist embraces many equally ultimate principles,
that are somehow unified as a one without an intelligible
- Some things happen for a reason, they are rational. Other phrases used
to describe this are: causality, determined, closed universe (there are
no alternatives, if A occurs then B invariably follows)
- Other things happen for no ultimate reason, they are irrational.
Other phrases used to describe this are: chance, acausal, undetermined,
open universe (there are alternatives, if A occurs, B1 may occur or B2
may occur etc. with varying probabilities.)
- Examples of irrational events, as espoused by "rational"
- Universe springs into being uncaused as a "Quantum" fluctuation
out of nothing.
- Life springs out matter in motion uncaused except by "chance"
- In fact, in the atheist world view, every individual springs from mere
impersonal chance. Deterministic laws can not make the modern man free,
man himself is the product of impersonal chance.
- Epistemologically rational. "Scientific method" arrives
at truth via deduction (logic) and induction (empiricism).
- Note that the atheist will "pick and choose" his point
of authority as is convenient to his argument. He plays a "shell game."
The "scientifically-minded" atheist (a la' Dawkins, Sagan, etc.)
puts forth a facade of rationality to the "man in the street."
Yet at rock-bottom his world view is built on the irrational. Might wonder:
Does the atheist rationally decide to appeal to the irrational? Does he
irrationally decide to be rational?
Figure 1. Materialist Presuppositions: Neutral Methodology?
Figure 2. Materialist Presuppositions are a Castle Built in the
- The atheist's "dualism" of Rationalism/Irrationalism is
summarized in the following chart. The atheist is both a flaming rationalist
and a flaming irrationalist. James 1:8
V. Critique of Evidentialist Method [Back to outline]
- Evidentialist gives in to
"myth of neutrality." Cf. Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic
Readings and Analysis, p. 146.
- "... the epistemological disagreements between believers and unbelievers
[can] not be resolved in a neutral fashion, as though the issue of God's
existence and character ... [can] be treated as secondary and thus
temporarily set aside without any commitment one way or another while
abstract philosophical issues [are] debated and settled. It is often, but
vainly, imagined that once we come to agreement on our epistemology, we
can apply those epistemological standards to the questions of whether God
exists, whether miracles occur, whether the Bible is true, etc. By contrast,
Van Til taught that abstract epistemological neutrality is an illusion
and that, given the kind of God revealed in the bible, imagined neutrality
is actually prejudicial against God.
"If God exists and is as the Christian world view claims, then His
existence has an undeniable bearing on how we understand the process of
knowing, the standards of truth and evidence, ultimate authority, and other
crucial matters in epistemology."
"There is no pristine, religiously neutral, abstract 'reason' to which
all men first swear their allegiance, only then to turn to such secondary
matters as man's nature, moral character, relation to God, destiny, etc.
The kind of man who is doing the reasoning already determines something
about the way in which he thinks about reason and engages in reasoning.
Thus Van Til stated, 'It is impossible to speak of the intellect per se,
without taking into consideration whether it is the intellect of a regenerated
person or of a non-regenerated person.'
"Van Til simply called for honesty and realism here. The metaphysical
situation and object of knowledge (e.g., God's existence, the relation
of created things to Him), as well as the psychological/moral situation
and the subject of knowledge (i.e., man as a knower, someone using reasoning
ability), cannot be ignored as we develop our views of knowing. 'Reason'
is simply an intellectual tool, rather than an ultimate standard of knowledge
(more authoritative even than God), and as such will be affected by the
regenerate or unregenerate condition of the man using it. A person's epistemological
behavior and commitments are ethical in character. According to Van Til,
one's theory of knowledge is not neutral, but subject to moral assessment
in terms of the ultimate authority to which one submits and which one attempts
- B. The fruit of evidentialism:
- God only "probably" exists. Typical wording: "Evidence
for" and "Evidence against" but evidence for out weighs
- A telling quote from Geisler where he criticizes the "weakness"
of presuppositionalism (that it requires defense of the total Christian
world view), Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), "But
it is not necessary to presuppose that the God is triune, has a son incarnated
as Jesus of Nazareth and has revealed himself in the sixty-six inspired
books of the Christian Scriptures. One can make sense of the world by assuming
less than the whole truth of Christianity." (P.156)
- Geisler has missed the whole point! We argue presuppositionally by
arguing in a holistic (hate to use that term) manner. Only Christianity
makes sense of everything. Reality is not ammenable to just any subset
of the truth, or to fanciful myth making.
- But the real shocker, is that Geisler has just admitted that the world
is neutral with respect to person of Christ! Thus you have to "add"
Christ as an extra, and the only way to do this is via a "self-evidencing
- Thus, we again see that according to evidentialism, man's knowledge
of the truth of Biblical Christianity rests only on a probability argument,
which rests on an abstract inductive principle, that is based on an a priori
standard of historical investigation. Are these "self-evidencing"
principles any more certain than the conclusions they obtain? No! Compounding
the leaky buckets does not lead to a leak proof bucket.
- Typical debate format:
- Use cosmological argument
- Use Ethical argument
- Argue evidentially for the resurrection of Christ.
- Use personal testimony try it you'll like it. Subjectivism. I
hope you appreciate that when it comes down to this, you're really desperate.
This is the "burning in the bosom" approach to "truth."
- Uses classical arguments. Cosmological and teleological. Ill
formulated. Based on assumption of unbeliever's autonomy. Presupposed neutrality.
- Cosmological argument. (See Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic
Readings and Analysis, pp.617-9 ).
- Statement of Argument. Everything has a cause. If everything has a
cause then it should be admitted that this world therefore has a cause.
This cause is God.
- This argument as presented by the evidentialist assumes that both this
world and causality makes sense a priori, outside the context of Biblical
world view and then argues back to "god."
- First objection is the Sunday school girl's question. Well where did
God come from? If the answer is God is uncaused, then the savvy atheist
of course asks why can't the uncaused thing just be the universe itself.
The argument as stated has no effect on the sophisticated college student.
- Fallacious points of cosmological argument
(1) As mentioned, already has surrendered by granting that the world and
causality makes sense outside of Biblical Christianity.
(2) How are we to understand the premise everything has a cause?
(a) Cannot be a universal "metaphysical principle," for it
would apply to God too.
(b) If it means the empirical fact that everything observed in
the universe has a cause, as seen in everyday experience. Then,
- the argument rests on the insecure foundations of empiricism and induction
(again assumed to make sense outside of the context of Christian theism
yet another surrender of evidentialism) for no one has seen everything.
(Further, the savvy atheist will resort to the irrationalism of quantum
mechanics to say not everything is caused!)
- so, everything just means everything within the universe
of experience (i.e. immanent within the world), and has a cause means
- These defeat the whole argument. Because when explicated the argument
is really saying. Since everything within experience has a natural
cause, the universe as a whole has a supernatural cause.
- Argues from properties of parts to properties of the whole. Known as
fallacy of composition. Example, since every member of a family is male
or female, the family must be male or female. Or since every member of
a football team is superior to another team, that team must be superior
(maybe all of these Heismann trophy candidates are mavericks and don't
cooperate as a team, they all run a different play!)
- Teleological argument (Paley's watch, evidence of purpose
of design in the creation).
- Evidentialist assumes design
makes sense a priori, and then argues back to "god"
- Well some
atheists just say there is no such thing as "design." Example,
- As presuppositionalists we point out that the very
idea of design already presupposes the God of creation.
VI. Presuppositional Method [Back to outline]
A. We present a challenge to the atheist's entire world view
1. TAG: Transcendental Argument for God. Christianity centered on the
dispensation of the Mystery is true because of the impossibility of the
contrary. God most certainly exists, and the proof is absolutely certain.
2. Atheist world-view leads to ultimate scepticism
- Can't account for:
(1) rationality > scientific method, laws of logic
(2) universal physical laws > induction
- On atheist world-view nothing is provable. His whole argument is
just question begging.
3. We challenge the unbeliever to give an intelligible account to the
above plurality via his own espoused world view. We reduce his position
to absurdity. We show that on his ground his world collapses into sound
and fury signifying nothing. Answer the fool according to his folly.
4. Atheist has an epistemological and ethical dilemma.
- He claims knowledge is possible,
via a logico-empirical method, yet cannot account for how this is possible
within his world view.
- He claims some form of morality, and does act
ethically, and may even inconsistently claim that ethics is not just a matter
of personal preference. But on his world view he cannot account for ethics.
Ultimately, his morality is merely subjective, a matter of person preference
or utilitarian and relative. He has no absolute morality and cannot
give an intelligible reason why anyone should be moral, or how morality
can arise from random processes of evolution. The point is that matter in
motion is not evil, it is just matter in motion.
5. Epistemological authorities of the atheist are impersonal universal
and eternal principles.
- "Scientific" method
- "Neutral" investigation: various shades of empiricism
various shades of rationalism
6. Internal critique.
- Atheist uses all of these principles
and authorities; and he appeals to them but can give no intelligible argument
for their existence.
- To paraphrase Greg Bahnsen: "Atheists can
count but they can't account for counting."
- Atheist can't account
(1) eternal universal immaterial laws (logic, etc.) or
(3) abstract concepts (mathematics) or
(4) absolute objective ethics.
- Atheism can't account for its own "scientific method."
(1) If empiricism is the theory of knowledge, then the view is self-defeating.
The scientific method can't be analyzed in a rock, or seen in a test tube.
(2) Atheism can't give an intelligible account of it metaphysics. How
can universal laws (unity = the one) arise out sheer chance (a miasma of
absolutely independent particulars = the many). This is the problem of the
one and the many. The atheist has a plurality of equally ultimate, absolutely
independent principles and things. There is an infinite unbridgeable gap
between these principles/things. Absolutely independent particulars cannot
give rise to a universals. Moreover, an absolute unity cannot produce particulars.
Can one deduce any individual person from the laws of logic?
(3) Atheist has no reason to believe that the "laws" of the
universe tomorrow will be as they are today. The gravitational "constant"
may spontaneously change causing all of the planets to fall into the sun.
He has no reason to believe anything is constant. Why is every electron
alike? Every proton, etc? The same "process" that gave rise to
its birth can just as easily give rise to its demise. In fact since everything
sprang from nothing by chance, perhaps tomorrow everything might spring
back into nothing by chance.
(4) The atheist cannot provide an intelligible foundation for his plurality
of ultimates. Why expect laws of logic to remain the same? After all, logic
is just a function of "meat computers" (brains) which were constructed
by chance and will evolve into different functions in the future. So today's
"logical" proof becomes tomorrow's irrationality! Aristotelian
logic is just an "implementation" of the brain. The scientific
method appears to "work." Why should it work tomorrow?
- To quote a leading atheist himself, Bertrand Russell, Problems
of Philosophy, p.68,69: "The inductive principle, however, is equally
incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience. Experience
might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that
have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive
principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined
to what has not been examined. All arguments which, on the basis of experience,
argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present,
assume the inductive principle; hence we can never use experience to prove
the inductive principle without begging the question. Thus we must
either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence,
or forgo all justification of our expectations about the future. ... All
our conduct is based upon associations which have worked in the past, and
which we therefore regard as likely to work in the future; and this likelihood
is dependent for its validity upon the inductive principle. The general
principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief
that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the
inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life. All such general principles
are believed because mankind have found innumerable instances of their truth
and no instances of their falsehood. But this affords no evidence for
their truth in the future, unless the inductive principle is assumed.
Thus all knowledge which, on a basis of experience tells us something about
what is not experienced, is based upon a belief which experience can neither
confirm nor confute... ."
- Note: Russell admits the whole foundation
is assumption, and to do otherwise is question begging. To paraphrase Bahnsen:
"The trouble with atheists is that they live by faith."
view of matter in motion and evolution is internally absurd. Irrationality
of Evolution. Requires the atheist to believe that things can turn into
their contradictions. For example:
(1) lifeless matter turns into life
(2) mindless matter turns into conscious thinking minds
(3) amoral matter turns into moral humans
(4) causal laws spring from acausal chance.
VII. Disarming the Atheist's "attacks"
[Back to outline]
A. "Religion" not scientific.
- Presupposes that logico-empirical method is only method that gives
assurance of truth. Presupposes there can be no non-empirical source of
knowledge about reality. But this is just question begging. The atheist
can provide no intelligible reason why "science" should work.
- Presuppositions of the atheist for "science." The "state
of affairs" that must exist for science to be meaningful.
- Man resides in a universe conducive to scientific enterprise.
- World of things and processes which can be known.
- Relation of man to this world allows him to know these things (reliability
of senses and mind).
- These processes are orderly and regular laws.
- Question: What reason can the atheist scientist give that
the "state of affairs" is in fact conducive to science. Why is
the world as it is and not otherwise? If at rock bottom all is haphazard
chance, then whence do the orderliness and regularity arise?
argue as if "science" makes sense independent of Biblical Christianity.
- Challenge atheist to prove his logico-empirical method, as above.
existence of immaterial laws of logic
- Prove law of induction
will protest "that's not fair."
B. Problem of Evil [Back to outline]
- Atheist Syllogism:
- An all-good God would not want evil to exist.
- An all-powerful God would prevent evil.
- Evil exists.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
(1) Either God is not all good (he would prevent it but doesn't)
(2) or God is not all powerful (he wants to prevent evil but can't)
- CONCLUSION: The omnipotent omnibenevolent God of Christianity does
- Or Christian view is logically inconsistent.
(1) God is powerful enough to prevent.
(2) God is good enough not to want evil and yet evil exists. How can you
believe in a god who ordains child molestation?
- Apologetic response.
- Both believer and unbeliever
"agree" that there is evil. So, the question is "what is
the reference point for what constitutes evil?"
- In a world ruled
by laws of matter and chance (atheism), there simply is no such thing as
evil. You see, the exact same laws of physics that result in billiard balls
bouncing off of pool table cushions is the same physics and chance that
gave rise to the Nazis and the holocaust. Just as there is no "oughtness"
in billiard balls (was it morally reprehensible that the eight ball banked
off of the rear cushion at 30 degrees and hit the "1" ball? You
evil eight ball, you! There is no "oughtness" in one bag of molecules
(the Commander of Auschwitz) "eliminating" other "bags of
molecules." It is all just a bunch of physics, matter in motion, sound
and fury signifying nothing.
- Of course, the holocaust IS reprehensible!
But only so on the Christian world view.
- Let 's look at the atheist's
syllogism a bit closer. It is fallacious for three reasons:
(1) It uses logic which the atheist claims is absolute authority and for
which he cannot account. (The atheists approach and methodology begs the
question at the "meta level").
(2) The atheist cannot intelligibly talk about evil in his world view.
Note that he does act as if he knows the law of God (Romans 2:15). He has
no absolute moral standard. This is the ethical dilemma of the atheist.
Evil either does not exist or is a convention of the majority. When the
atheist eliminates God, he also eliminates the evil.
(3) Actually, one premise is manufactured, that being "An all-good
God would not ordain evil." This is suspect. We claim as Christians
that God has morally sufficient reasons within himself for having
decreed evil. This is not a logical problem, but it may be an emotive problem,
a psychological problem to some people. Ultimately, it is an autobiographical
objection that means "I don't like that God."
- So, in conclusion:
Omnipresent, omnipotent, omni-benevolent, omniscient God is not logically
inconsistent. The "standard syllogism" is ill phrased.
C. Order from chaos. [Back to outline]
- This is sometime proposed as overcoming the atheist's problem of small
probabilities for life to arise by chance. The argument is based on the
two ultimates of the atheist world view, rational laws plus irrational
- First point is to challenge the atheist to give an intelligible description
of what chance and probability are. (As theists we should never argue against
evolution using probability arguments as if probability makes sense outside
the Christian world view. Rather, we should show that evolution is internally
self-contradictory, as above.)
- Second, the appeal to chaos theory is misinformed. Chaos theory is
completely deterministic. Chaos theory presupposes an underlying non-linear
deterministic equation (think law) which given the initial state of the
system the time development of the state is completely determined (no chance
is involved). The system only appears to be chaotic (this is just a qualitative
term, the system looks chaotic locally over short times). The system is
actually organized from the beginning. Ask the atheist were these self-organizing
laws sprang from, and further were the individual initial conditions sprang
- The atheist when he rejects
the God of Scripture accepts a world view which is utterly foolish. The
fool has said in his heart there is no God. Ps. 53:1.
- He says
that evil in the world contradicts the existence of God, but he is left
with a world in which nothing is evil.
- When he rejects God as
Creator, he accepts an irrational world in which things can turn into their
contradictions. Mind from mindlessness, morals from amoral matter; laws
from lawlessness, uniformity from nonuniformity; predictability from non
- He appeals by irrational faith to the power of
chance. But chance does not exist. Chance is nothing. Time plus chance
turn things into their contradictions.
- He says that miracles are impossible,
there is no supernatural, that all is natural uniform processes, But he
cannot account for the uniformity of nature. To the atheist the uniformity
that he claims is just an accident, so for the atheist the fact that today
is like yesterday is an irrational miracle. The fact that the laws
are as they are today is one big fluke. Yet he practices his science on
the presupposition of uniformity.